Arsenal in crisis – is it fact or fantasy?
Arsene Wenger is facing a player mutiny, but is this really something the Gunners boss has not seen before?
A self-confessed workaholic, Arsene Wenger usually enjoys this week, the return to pre-season training and a long season with all its possibilities stretching out ahead of him at Arsenal.
However, as he anticipates the return of his players to London Colney over the next few days, Wenger will probably not be in the most buoyant of moods.
The atmosphere in the Arsenal camp appears to be mutinous, with senior players queuing up to leave and plenty of others attracting unwelcome interest from clubs sensing a club in crisis and circling like vultures.
That is the fantasy, what of the reality. Wenger has experienced plenty of supposed crises as he approaches 15 years in charge of the Gunners, and is this one really any different?
Certainly if Samir Nasri and Cesc Fabregas join Gael Clichy and head for the Emirates exit door then the pressure on Wenger will build to arguably its greatest level since his arrival in 1996.
All three are senior players, and while the departure of Fabregas has been expected, and Clichy leaving is no real surprise either, the sight of the captain of the club and two other established internationals, all in their mid-20s, leaving for pastures new is a scenario it is difficult to put in a positive light.
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The future of Nasri has become pivotal to Arsenal’s position this summer. Given that he had refused to sign a new contract that was on the table for the second half of last season, the current turn of events is again not a complete surprise to Wenger and the Arsenal board.
But Nasri’s determination to leave has shocked them. Arsenal felt Nasri was probably jockeying for a better deal and better wages, something they were happy to accede to after his impressive season. Nasri, it seems, is having none of it.
“I don’t want to sign for a club where I wouldn’t be playing the football that I like, where I wouldn’t feel happy, just for the sake of money,” said the 24-yeaar-old at the weekend.
“We already earn huge wages. The priority is to make a big career and to win titles. With no titles under your belt, you can’t be in the list for the Ballon d’Or.
“I came to England to get trophies because I haven’t won anything in my career, apart from an Under-17 European Championship in 2004.
“We all need to get out of our comfort zone to grow up and test ourselves. I am hungry for titles. I play football because I love this sport and want to feel the emotion of winning.”
Whatever you think of those comments, it is hard for this argument not to come back to money, and the imminent departure of his close friend Clichy to Manchester City is no coincidence.
Clichy, certainly a lesser player - reflected in his transfer value that is about a third of that of Nasri - will earn in excess of �115,000 a week at City.
Nasri could earn much more than that, and have a better chance of winning trophies at the same time. It’s a no-brainer for him, once you take any loyalty to Arsenal or to Wenger, the club and manager who have made him the player he is, out of the equation.
Again, Wenger has seen this before. The list of players who have quit Arsenal in search of bigger money and supposedly bigger clubs during his reign is both lengthy and well-documented.
Nicolas Anelka was the first way back in 1999 – and having bought him two years earlier for �500,000, Arsenal sold l’enfant terrible to Real Madrid for �22.5m.
The following year Emmanuel Petit decided that a bigger club was where he belonged and headed to Barcelona in a joint deal with Marc Overmars that netted the Gunners �30m.
Neither player rediscovered the heights they had touched at Highbury, and while Anelka has won medals and scored goals across Europe, his nomadic career has not quite matched the promise of his early years.
Within two years of the departure of Overmars and Petit, Arsenal had won the Double again, with players like Thierry Henry (bought with the money from the Anelka sale) and Robert Pires coming to the fore.
Big players will always leave and have continued to do so. The entire fabled back four and David Seaman gradually retired. Patrick Vieira left in 2005, Thierry Henry in 2007 and Alexander Hleb in 2008, all at a handsome profit for Arsenal and all in moves they were later to openly admit they regretted.
Fabregas is aware of that, has seen what happened to Henry and Hleb at Barcelona, and remained at Arsenal perhaps longer than he desired.
But Fabregas is a special case, Barca are his club, he is a Catalan, he was always going to go back one day, and now he will. But Arsenal will get �35m for him
If Nasri follows then a crisis will be perceived from the outside, but not from within. However, Wenger will have to have to make sure no other key players leave, and surely will do so.
Arsenal are not short of talented players and as Jack Wilshere’s emergence last season showed, they can create them as well as buy them. Manchester City and Chelsea haven’t quite worked that one out yet.
And Wenger will also have in excess of �60m in transfer revenue alone to spend, while the board had already made it clear to him there were sufficient funds available before the glut of big-money exits.
This time Wenger might have to spend some of it, but he has often done so wisely in the past. While he and Arsenal cannot compete with the wages or transfer fees paid by City, Chelsea or Manchester United, Arsenal are certainly not paupers in comparison to the rest of the football world.
Nasri has not been sold yet, but if he is Arsenal will go on. Arsenal always go on, Wenger always goes on.
No player is bigger than the club, but at Arsenal for the last 15 years the manager has been bigger than all of them. He might have to prove why over the next few months.